Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Anti-Semitic Cartoons

The cartoon Wars take a new turn. Early this week an Iranian newspaper announced it would organise a cartoon competition:
Iran's best-selling newspaper launched a competition on Tuesday to find the best cartoon about the Holocaust, in retaliation for the publication in Denmark and other European countries of caricatures of the founder of Islam. (Reuters)

The object of publishing such Holocaust cartoons would be to test European sensitivities regarding free speech, on a super-sensitive topic such as the Holocaust.

But the Arab-European League (AEL), a small organisation based in Belgium has already beaten the Iranians to it, by starting to publish anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying caricatures.

On their site, the AEL state quite tongue-in-cheek:
Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend the freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatise Muslims, we also do stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact.

I've only seen two of the cartoons so far, here's one of them.

Now I'm a white Caucasian, agnostic male and I can assure you that what I've seen so far, I find indeed deeply offensive and saddening. That in today's world some will still deny or at least seriously diminish the scale of the Holocaust, defies belief. It is precisely because the events of the Holocaust and the incredible scale of it have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Holocaust denying is illegal in some European countries.

Personally I feel the legal issue doesn't really do much to solve the problem: sadly beliefs regarding the Holocaust as an exaggeration, or even a complete fabrication persist nonetheless and in spite of legal deterrents. In European countries those holding such beliefs are merely driven underground, exercising their right to free speech in private, amongst like-minded bigots and unchallenged. And in some parts of Arab society, such views are still fashionable.

The AEL's choice of an ethnic and religious group that had nothing to do with the original dispute is unfortunate and to some it will devalue their exercise in unfettered free speech. But that won't make the issue go away, nor is it useful to reduce it merely to childish tit-for-tat.

Others see a political dimension:
More broadly, European Union officials and diplomats said they were convinced that much of the violence against European diplomatic missions and citizens over the cartoons was not spontaneous but instigated by governments or political groups.

Some Muslims, while condemning the cartoons, have also voiced fears that radicals are hijacking the protests and distorting the debate over media freedom and religious respect.

Whilst this is undoubtedly true to some extent, my own reaction to the AEL cartoons shows something more basic is at work here. I dislike the cartoons because they violate what I hold to be true and dear: to me, Holocaust denial is a most vicious form of lying.

But I fully realise that the Prophet Mohammed wasn't a terrorist and that Islam is not a religion of terrorism: those also are lies.

There's an object lesson in modesty begging to be learnt here: just about anyone can be offended if the right "buttons" are pressed. Careful what you wish for...

Whilst it's definitely better to fight cartoons with cartoons than with killings and burning embassies, Iran's cartoon competition is likely to stir up more violence in the Middle East. If Iran believes it will delay
the nuclear issue in this way, as some suggest, I believe it will be sadly mistaken.

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3 Comments:

At 2:46 AM, Blogger madato said...

While I share your view that the fight cartoons with cartoons is wrong, I don't share your reasons. I don't think the cartoons are offensive. They're just making a fool of themselves with their childish antics. They're the ones with the problem, and replying with insulting cartoons doesn't really help them feel any better. What will help them feel better is if we get offended the same way they did. It doesn't quite work that way though.

First of all Muslims still can't quite grasp what the purpose of those cartoons were and that it wasn't a personal attack on Islam or Muslims, at least not the way they've taken it. Until they understand this the problem will not be solved. I guess I am saying that until Muslims accept the cartoons, the issue remains. And when worded that way it does sound a bit biased, but that is the truth, and the problem does lie with Muslims' perspective on the matter.

If anything, one might conclude Eastern Islamic Cultures and Western secular societies can not co-exist and that each should respect the other's customs and traditions. This solution does not really provide a solution though. Even if we separated all the Muslims from the non-muslims and put them in separate countries, the Muslims would still take it personally if a cartoon was published in the non-muslim country, motivating them for war. On the other hand if you leave them in the same country and have the non-muslims "respect" the Prophet and quran, you're imposing religious beliefs on non-religious people and free speech would be lost.

So I repeat, what Iran and Arab are doing as a rebuttal to the cartoons is not really offensive, and if we do get offended by them, we're no better than them. Even though their reason for the cartoons are not the same, even if their primary reason was to offend the Jews and Christians, which would be the most extreme case, there is no reason for anyone to be offended by that, they're only making a spectacle of themselves.

However, that would be the extreme case, and as tempting and obvious as it may seem, we are at no position to judge that their primary purpose was hate and anger. Now I know expressing hate against a race, group, or religion is not justified by free speech, and perhaps that's just the point Muslims want to convey, but I firmly believe the Danish comics were not hate expressions.

 
At 2:01 PM, Blogger Gert said...

You make some fair points and some not so fair ones too:

"First of all Muslims still can't quite grasp what the purpose of those cartoons were and that it wasn't a personal attack on Islam or Muslims, at least not the way they've taken it. Until they understand this the problem will not be solved. I guess I am saying that until Muslims accept the cartoons, the issue remains. And when worded that way it does sound a bit biased, but that is the truth, and the problem does lie with Muslims' perspective on the matter."

That's a problem of perception and perspective. From one's own angle a person cannot help feeling offended by something, nor is it [the offence] very important. How a person (or group) vent their feelings is much more relevant: the kind of scenes that have been created by Muslims the world over are intolerable. They're entitled to feel angry but need to channel that anger into non-violent expressions.

"So I repeat, what Iran and Arab are doing as a rebuttal to the cartoons is not really offensive, and if we do get offended by them, we're no better than them. Even though their reason for the cartoons are not the same, even if their primary reason was to offend the Jews and Christians, which would be the most extreme case, there is no reason for anyone to be offended by that, they're only making a spectacle of themselves."

Ah, you see, to me these Holocaust cartoons ARE offensive, very much so in fact. But there isn't a hair on my head that wants to go and violently protest these publications. THAT is where I differ from the Muslim protesters. In a context different from this cartoon-baiting game, I might spend more blogtime on them, in protest, but that's as far as I'll go. Let's hope fellow non-Muslims and atheists/agnostics do the same and refrain from any violent reaction.

"However, that would be the extreme case, and as tempting and obvious as it may seem, we are at no position to judge that their primary purpose was hate and anger. Now I know expressing hate against a race, group, or religion is not justified by free speech, and perhaps that's just the point Muslims want to convey, but I firmly believe the Danish comics were not hate expressions."

I'm not saying they were, in fact I don't believe they were published with malicious intent. However, that's a little besides the point to me. With hindsight I'm not surprised that the now infamous Mohammad-with-bomb-turban cartoon caused such a stir: it was dumb, devoid of context and therefore easily misinterpreted. Was that the cartoonist's intention, to create through what essentially comes down to incompetence, an image that could be misread so easily?

Having said that, it doesn't take anything away from the right to publish, and the fact that Muslim reaction is seriously overblown. Nonetheless, to make these cartoons a make-or-break case for freedom of expression is to attribute something to them that they aren't deserving of.

 
At 5:46 AM, Anonymous Inquisitor said...

The antecedent of Holocausts, amongst others, are 'Holocaust Enhancing' perspectives that are founded on the stereotypification of an entire group of persons - and, in this case, Muslims as 'terrorists', as explicated by the depiction of Muhammad as a 'terrorist'.

I would utilise the Freedom of Speech to ask if such an anti-social typification is true, why it is true, and, if it is true, what elements contribute to it being so.

 

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